Marrakech is a major city in Morocco on the edge of the Sahara beneath the snow capped Atlas mountains. Picture that if you will. Not that it needs any introduction. It is surely Morocco’s most memorable experience. Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square, is a UNESCO heritage site. It’s densely populated and the locals are multi lingual – speaking a mixture of Arabic and French. The moment you touch down on this baked red city your senses will go into overdrive. So here are a few tips to help you get the best out of your time in Marrakech:
Be respectful of local culture.
Morocco is a Muslim country which follows Islamic traditions. I visited Marrakech during the holy month of Ramadan. Almost everyone I met was fasting. So, during my stay I did not eat and drink in public. When I had lunch, I sat inside a hotel or restaurant away from windows as a mark of respect for those who were fasting. Ramadan falls on the 9th month of the Islamic calendar (not the same as the lunar calendar). So, check your travel dates and be mindful if you are travelling during Ramadan or any other times of cultural significance.
Carry a scarf.
I found Marrakech to be liberal in terms of dress. However, if you’re a female traveller, carrying a scarf is a failsafe for many places in the world. It comes in handy when you least expect it. You do not need to cover your hair. I mostly use my scarf to protect my skin from the sun. In Marrakech I used it for covering my shoulders whilst out and about during the day. It’s a great way to communicate that you are aware of local culture which is always appreciated by locals. It also makes you look like less of a novice – useful for avoiding unwanted attention if you’re travelling alone.
This is a brilliant app that works well inside the Medina (where you are most likely to get lost). Citymapper allows you to navigate walking routes via your smart phone. It also offers alternative routes to get to your destination. So if you like exploring on foot then this is a must and you will not be at the mercy of the locals to find your around.
If you have no access to wifi or are unable to use apps for any other reason you can still navigate the city. It’s dotted with various distinctive landmarks. However, each narrow lane looks remarkably similar to the next. Try to remember names of particular hotels, a distinctive stall or a coffee shop and use them as landmarks to navigate your way through the medina and find your way back. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for directions – shop keepers are your best bet. Avoid faux guides who will offer to direct you as they will always expect to be paid for their trouble.
Be Assertive – not rude.
Some touts in Marrakech can be aggressive and aggressive begging is common. While 95% of locals are mild mannered and friendly a handful of touts were an annoyance. The three best ways to deal with aggressive touts are: a) Ignore them as you keep walking by. b) Don’t stop to talk as this will be taken as a show of interest. c) Always be polite but firm and avoid confrontation.
Trust your instincts.
Never follow anyone to a ”friend’s shop”, “best restaurant”, “cheap carpets/silver/leather”. Rule of thumb in travel is that if you follow someone to a place you don’t know, you will at best, have to buy something don’t need/want. At worst, this is too big a risk to your safety. No bargain in the world is worth this risk. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t – just don’t do it.
Make friends with other travellers.
I made friends with two solo female travellers whilst dining al fresco in Jemaa el-Fnaa. It meant that after dinner, instead of heading back to my hotel, I was able to stay out a little later than planned, soaking in the atmosphere. It’s a great way to get more out of a trip if you’re flying solo. You may also be able to go on join excursions making it safer and cheaper to travel.
Let your hotel staff know your daily itinerary.
Excursions should only be booked through an operator who has an agreement with the local authorities. They must be able to display an official badge. Leave the name and contact details of your guide AND details of the company with hotel staff / concierge. If you are braving the trip on your own be vigilant and keep your valuables safe. Also inform hotel staff of your itinerary and let them know that you are travelling alone and get their advice. However, trekking alone is not advisable and you should consider joining a group.
Guides can be hired through most hotels and riads. A basic guideline of costs is approximately £12 for half a day and £30 for a full day. However, private operator and riad charges may range from £50 – £90.
Write down your hotel’s telephone number, address and location in Arabic.
English is widely spoken in Marrakech. As you venture a little further outside the city, it will definitely be useful to have the name and address of your hotel AND directions written down in Arabic in case of an emergency. Always carry this with you to make yourself understood in an unexpected situation. It is unlikely that people outside the medina will have heard of your hotel no matter how reputable a chain it may be.
Relax and enjoy!
Marrakech is a breathtakingly beautiful place. It has a magnetism and allure that is hard to describe. It will charm the most ardent traveller into a spell. So be prepared to soak in all this wonderful city has to offer. Over 600,000 Brits visit Morocco each year and most visits are trouble free. So be safe, relax and enjoy!